Ruling

03484-18 Sikh Press Association v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      16th August 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03484-18 Sikh Press Association v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. The Sikh Press Association complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an image captioned “Street party”, published on 9 April 2018, and an image captioned “Brothers in arms”, published on 30 April 2018.

2. The first image showed two boys in Sikh ceremonial clothing. It was captioned “Street party: Thousands of Sikhs paraded through Glasgow on a route taking in the city’s four temples to mark Vaisakhi, the Sikh new year, next Saturday”. It also appeared on the publication’s website. The second image showed five Sikh men taking a selfie. It was captioned “Brothers in arms: [name], of the National Army Museum, with volunteers in First World War uniforms at a celebration of the Sikh new year in Trafalgar Square”. It did not appear online, and only appeared in the early print edition of the newspaper.

3. The complainant said that the captions were inaccurate: Vaisakhi is not the “Sikh new year”. Rather, it marks the creation of the Khalsa - a select group of initiated Sikhs - and the start of the second month of the Sikh calendar. By definition, therefore, it could not mark the start of the new year; there is no calendar adopted by Sikhs in which Vaisakhi marks the first day of the year. In addition, neither of the events the images illustrated had any ‘new year’ connotations at all. The complainant said that it had contacted the publication about the first image, and it had agreed to amend the online caption; however, it had not corrected the error publicly, and this error had been repeated for the second image.

4. The publication said that it appreciated the full religious and cultural significance of Vaisakhi to Sikhs; it was, however, challenging to convey this in a caption, as detailed explanation would be required. The publication said that ‘Sikh new year’ was a widely-used summary description for the festival, which was generally understood and almost universally used, and to claim that this was significantly inaccurate was disproportionate. It said that, as well as celebrating the inauguration of the Khalsa, the festival also marks a spring harvest festival and the solar new year, and the fact of the religious interpretation should not preclude reference to the other aspects of the festival. The publication provided a wide range of sources in which the festival was referred to as the ‘Sikh new year’. The publication considered that the complainant’s interpretation was particular and orthodox; this did not make its own description inaccurate. Nevertheless, the publication offered to publish the following clarification as a gesture of goodwill:

In picture captions we twice described the festival of Vaisakhi as marking the Sikh new year. While the festival is widely referred to an understood in this way around the world, we have been asked to make clear that for Sikhs it marks the creation of the Khalsa, the collective of initiated Sikhs, and commemorates the day in 1699 when Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th of the Sikh gurus, bestowed Sikhs with the form, appearance and discipline associated with the Sikh way of life.

5. The complainant said that the fact that the inaccurate description of Vaisakhi was is common usage did not make it correct, and the space restrictions of a caption did not justify the publication of inaccurate information. It said that the publication had failed to provide primary evidence to support interpreting the festival in this way. Its own description of the festival was shared across the Sikh community.

Relevant Code provisions

6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)      

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Findings of the Committee

7. The complainant disagreed with the view that Vaisakhi can be described as the ‘Sikh new year’. However, a wide range of sources, including some apparently written by Sikhs and in India, refer to it in this way. Because the description of Vaisakhi as a ‘Sikh new year’ festival is so widespread, and encompasses Sikh and Indian sources, the Committee did not consider that repeating it represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the captions. The complainant had contacted the publication after the first caption was published, setting out its position, but the publication was entitled to consider a range of sources in coming to its decision on how to characterise Vaisakhi. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.

8.  The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had a detailed and authoritative understanding of the full significance of Vaisakhi to Sikhs. It considered that, in certain circumstances, a detailed description of Vaisakhi might be required, and relevant. Its role in this instance, however, was to determine whether, in the context of a picture caption, the reference to a “Sikh new year” festival was significantly inaccurate so as to require correction under Clause 1(ii).

9. The captions were not detailed descriptions of the festival, explaining its origins and purpose, and nor were they an attempt to describe its full significance for Sikhs. It was apparent that Vaisakhi has a number of different associations for different groups, including as a solar and farming new year. Although these associations may not be specific or central to the Sikh understanding of the festival, in these circumstances, and in the specific context of the photo captions, the Committee did not consider that repeating the widely-used description of Vaisakhi represented a significant inaccuracy such as would require correction under Clause 1(ii). The Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s offer to publicly clarify the purpose of the festival.

Conclusion

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. N/A

Date complaint received: 13/05/2018

Date decision issued: 19/07/2018

Review

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.